Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Guest reviewer Shaindle Minuk gives us this review of MEGAZONE 23 PART ONE, which originally appeared in 2004 on the Anime Jump website, back when this DVD was new. You can now find it for as little as $3; definitely worth picking up.

Originally planned as a full television series, Megazone 23, released in 1985, wound up being a pioneer in the then-fledgling Original Video Animation market. It shares much of its creative staff with 1984's Macross: Do You Remember Love, in particular character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto (aka "Hal"), though in this case his design is limited to one character: pop idol Eve Tokimatsuri. Although the rest of the cast is designed by Toshitaka Hirano, Hirano's style is close enough to the Mikimoto school of design that there is plenty of visual consistency, while still ensuring that Eve has a slightly different look that makes her stand out from the rest of the characters. This is important, because Eve is most definitely not like other girls.

Megazone 23 Part 1 has actually been dubbed twice before into English, first as a semi-aborted attempt at a Robotech movie called Robotech: The Untold Story. New scenes were animated for this, and the dialogue strongly re-worked in order to link up the storylines to the Robotech TV series, but the movie only saw release for a handful of test screenings. It's just as well. A few years after this aborted franken-sequel, Carl Macek's Streamline Pictures released a reasonably straight dubbed adaptation to video, later ported to a bare-bones DVD release from Image. This new DVD version is, of course, a direct translation and of no relation whatsoever to Robotech or Macek's old Megazone 23 dub.

I don't want to describe too much of Megazone 23's plot, because there are a few interesting twists in the script-- and while it's not like they're going to BLOW YOUR MIND or anything (this isn't The Manchurian Candidate I'm talking about here) they were fairly innovative at the time and provided inspiration for subsequent popular entertainment on both sides of the Pacific. Suffice it to say that Shogo Yahagi is a fun-loving 18 year old who loves motorcycles and girls and supports these interests by working at McDonald's (an amazingly realistic touch for a science-fiction/fantasy anime hero). 

His existence becomes decidedly less carefree the night his buddy Shinji shows him a weird-looking motorcycle inscribed with the word "Bahamoud." This bike is some sort of top-secret experimental weapon and Shinji quickly pays with his life for letting this little secret out of the bag when he and Shogo are surprised by duplicitous, mysterious government agent BD and his henchmen. Shogo makes off with the special bike and in short order finds himself way over his head-- no small feat when you consider the sheer enormity of his 80s hairdo.

And make no mistake, this anime is very much a product of the 80s. HOO BOY, is it a product of the 80s. The interesting thing about this is that there are very good reasons for the specificity of details, above and beyond the mere fact that it was actually produced in the 1980s. The setting, Tokyo in the mid 80s, is very deliberate and lovingly detailed. Street and neighbourhood names are rattled off by the characters, who spend their time in landmarks easily identifiable for anyone who's ever spent any time in that city. This verisimilitude-- well, if you can suspend your disbelief for the presence of "video phones" and punkers who rock out to J-pop idol singers-- is necessary for the full impact of the revelations made in later scenes. 

Metaphorically, the story (like a lot of anime, really) could be described as a dramatization of the point where youthfulness collides with mature reality, the loss of innocence that occurs when you realize how creepy and corrupt and dangerous all the adults surrounding you are. Not unlike Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, the teenagers in Megazone 23 discover that the world is full of "phoneys".

Of course, unlike Holden's New York City, the world of Megazone 23 is full of actual, literal phoneys. This again works well for the setting, because the 80s, especially Tokyo in the 80s, was an amazingly artificial time and place. The music is, fittingly, high-adrenaline mid-80s synth-pop without a single "live" instrument in the whole ding-dang score, and the three songs sung by Eve (seiyuu: Kumi Miyasato) are catchy and quite good, if you happen to like 80s-era J-pop (which I do). The first one, "Sentimental Behind My Back," notably contains what is probably J-pop's only reference to Jewish folk painter Marc Chagall, so what's not to like?

The design aesthetic of the anime is, as stated earlier, very good at providing a realistic setting for a fairly fantastic story. The character and mecha designs match up well in their balance between cartooniness and realism. The actions scenes are pretty well-animated, but the character animation is sort of lackluster. OVAs of this era tended not to have big budgets (the big bucks were reserved for feature films) and it shows here. It's not terrible, but it's pretty stiff and there's a lot of inconsistency, especially in scenes where character and mecha are shown together.

Just beat it

The DVD is of good quality and as is usually the case with DVD releases of old anime, the dust and brush strokes on the cels are clearly visible. Otherwise, it's a very good, clean print of the film. It's got some ads at the beginning but you can skip past them. The extras consist mainly of lots of pre-production artwork and a commentary track by the people in charge of the dub, anchored by one Matt Greenfield, which is interesting if you are into the early days of anime fandom in North America-- these folks are certainly qualified! There is also an insert with a lovely "Hal" painting of Eve on one side and a very interesting history of the development of the Megazone 23 storyline and characters on the reverse.

The psuedo-Shinjuku of MEGAZONE 23

I had one problem coming into this dub, which is that PEOPLE IN THE 1980'S DID NOT SAY "MY BAD" ARGH ARGH ARGH. Anachronistic slang really pisses me off. It's particularly odd given that the rest of the dub is almost self-conscious about the fact that the setting is firmly planted in the mid-80s, even going to the trouble of adding references to A Flock of Seagulls and whatnot in order to remain true to the era. The voices, by and large, are fine, not exactly the same as the Japanese voices (well, except the singing of course). Shogo seems less carefree and more, well, wussy in the dub, though, which didn't really work for me. Maybe they were trying to mitigate the scene in which he slaps romantic interest Yui during an argument by making him come off as harmless, I don't know. Speaking of which, that is really the most dated part of the whole video, big hair and idol singers aside. Back in the 1980s, it was actually considered acceptable for an anime hero to give his girl a slap if the occasion called for it. Of course here in North America we know better (DON'T WE?!) but Japan is obviously a different culture and aside from the somewhat slower rate that women's rights have gained ground over there, there's a certain precedence in Japanese culture for "slapping some sense" into people. So what seems really distasteful and inappropriate to us would probably just seem like par for the course to the Japanese. Nevertheless, if nothing else has improved about anime in the past 20 years, it is extremely gratifying to see that good-natured anime heroes don't go around slapping heroines anymore. (If anything, the pendulum may've swung too far in the other direction, but that's neither here nor there.)

Aside from that, there are certain things that don't quite make sense when translated into English-- small talk about blood types, for example-- but otherwise it works out okay. There are changes to details of the dialogue, most of them presumably for either clarity or timing, and I can't figure out why everyone in it answers the phone by saying "Yes???" but otherwise it seems pretty close to the subtitled version. It's no Robotech: The Untold Story, anyhow, thank God.

All in all, I highly recommend this DVD for anyone with fond memories of this production's initial release, as well as anyone who likes a good urban science-fiction story. It's got motorcycles that transform into robots, bad guys who may actually be good guys, brainwashing, violence, romance, some tasteful sex scenes, some rather distasteful sex scenes, catchy J-pop, and references to the obscure 80s film Streets of Fire. I ask again, what's not to like? 

-Shaindle Minuk

next: Dave reviews MEGAZONE 23 PART TWO

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